The national security debate within the Republican Party is writ in Idaho too - smaller scale, but with points intact.
Conditions around the world are in other words coming home to Idaho politics, in a way that hasn’t much been the case for a long time.
A quick recap first. U.S. House Republican leadership to this writing has essentially blockaded aid measures for Ukraine and Israel, whether or not coupled with funding and other measures relating to border security long proposed by Republicans. Their Senate counterparts have pressed on, working with the chamber’s Democrats. One effort including the border provisions collapsed after House leadership registered opposition, but on February 13 the Senate passed a national security package including help for Ukraine and Israel. It now goes to the House. (There is some talk of the House accepting the bill if a border section is attached; we’ll see. Conditions are fluid at the moment.)
The senators voting in favor included 22 members of the Republican caucus (close to half). Along with Minority Leader Mitche McConnell, they included Idaho’s senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch. Risch, as ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a persistent backer of help for Ukraine.
All of which will likely strike many Americans as good news. But not in the offices of the Idaho Republican Party.
An e-mailed statement from the party shortly after the Senate vote said that, “The priorities in DC are misplaced. Americans are struggling financially, our border is wide open and untold hundreds of thousands are entering our country illegally. Americans are not interested in funding more foreign wars, instead needing relief here at home. Every taxpayer dollar that we send to fund the war in Ukraine prolongs a conflict that has the potential to spin out of control, even leading to a third World War. This bill must be stopped in the House.”
The last part of the statement has it somewhat backward: It is to keep the conflict from spreading - Russia taking on other targets - the aid to Ukraine most specifically is in American interests.
The statement was also interesting in three things it did not mention. First, it didn’t specifically mention aid to Israel, which most Republicans as well as Democrats have strongly backed. Second, it didn’t mention funding and law changes related to the border, which were in the earlier Senate bill that the House essentially blew up.
And third, it didn’t mention directly Idaho’s two senators: It left the criticism of them implicit.
The senators issued their own statement after the vote, saying (along with accurately pointing out non-assistance defense measures in the bill) “It is critically important we help defend Israel, prohibit funding for the antisemitic UN Relief and Works Agency, stop the advancement of China, and halt Russia from once again expanding its adversarial empire. … we must support allies who will stand with us in what is a very dangerous time globally.”
They offered in other words an actual recognition of American interests, both immediate and longer-range, of the kind not visible in the Idaho Republican statement. National analysts pointed out that many of the Republican senators who joined that effort have relatively strong backgrounds in foreign relations, the military or both.
The bill now goes to the House. Representative Russ Fulcher almost certainly will go along with the House leadership position in opposition to it.
And maybe Representative Mike Simpson will too.
But maybe Simpson’s vote shouldn’t be written off too quickly. Risch has been a strong advocate for help for Ukraine and Israel both, and I could imagine that Simpson might pay attention to what he has to say.
The security of the nation and the world may count on conversations like that in the next few days.